I didn’t think the Korean leftists would be able to turn this into an anti-US issue like they have done in the past with the 2002 Armored Vehicle Accident or the 2008 US Beef Riots and sure enough the Cheju Naval Base construction has pretty much dropped of the radar as a Korean presidential election issue:
Military and government officials say the project is at a point where there is no turning back. The adamant protesters say they have no plans to end their demonstrations.
Although Gangjeong villagers raised their voices when the controversial project was a hot-button issue ahead of the general elections in April, most now hope for an end to the prolonged conflict that has caused deep rifts in the town.
One resident complained about the loudspeakers that urged villagers to fight against riot police when some activists were taken under custody for violent demonstrations.
“The government approved the project and the construction is underway,” the villager in his 50s said, declining to give his name because he was worried about the repercussions of talking to the media. “As it has already started, I just want it to be completed as soon as possible.”
Military officials say they also want the confrontation over so that they can smoothly proceed with the project, and get along with local residents.
“The sound of loudspeakers for protests is a burden on soldiers and workers here,” a Navy officer told a Yonhap News reporter during a recent visit there.
The prolonged conflict illustrates the difficulties of building a new military base in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, which sees a growing number of legal disputes regarding pollution and noise near military facilities.
“This is going to be a clear example of a state project that is locked up in political disputes,” a naval officer said, asking for anonymity. “When considering building an additional military base in the future, policymakers will have to take into consideration the additional costs caused by political wrangling and protests.”
The latest wrangling took place in late November after the parliamentary defense committee approved a 201 billion won (US$185 million) budget bill on Nov. 29, even though opposition lawmakers boycotted the process.
Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) had called for nullifying the bill, although they later retreated from their earlier position to halve the budget, citing flaws in the construction procedure.
In Seoul, an hour flight from the famous tourist destination, Rev. Moon Jeong-hyun, an open critic of the naval base, had his hair shaved during a rally in front of the National Assembly and has begun an indefinite hunger strike in protest of the budget bill passage.
The budget bill is now pending in a parliamentary budget subcommittee, which put on hold the bill citing pros and cons over the controversial bill. It needs to get full approval in the plenary session for implementation.
While the naval base project became a high-stake political issue under a liberal campaign ahead of the April election, the media spotlight has mostly faded over the project in the run-up to the presidential election on December 19.
If the bill is put off until after the December vote, the size of the budget may depend on who is elected.
Moon Jae-in, the leading liberal presidential candidate, criticized the naval base project ahead of the April polls, but has spared his words in the run-up to the presidential election.
During his visit to the island in September, Moon said he agreed to the need to build a naval base there, but stressed the democratic process was necessary to proceed further with the construction. The former chief of staff to the liberal government of Roh Moo-hyun apologized for approving the project while he was in office.
Park Geun-hye, the conservative front-runner of the Saenuri Party, criticized Moon for reversing his stance over the project, saying the naval base is necessary for strong national defense. [Yonhap]
You can read the full article at the link but judging from the pictures in the article their appears to be very few protesters left at the site and are there just to be annoying and available for photo ops.